An approximately 100-strong contingent represented Te Ope Whakaora at this year’s Waitangi celebrations in early February, including Māori Ministry, Whangārei Corps, Divisional and Territorial Leaders—Te Ope Whakaora whānau, spanning the length and breadth of the country.
‘It’s significant that the most strategic place in Aotearoa wants to include Te Ope Whakaora. We are welcome, recognised and accepted by the wider community. There is a warmth toward us that’s so encouraging,’ reports Captain Hana Seddon, Divisional Secretary for Northern Division/ASARS Māori Ministry.
Hana first made the pilgrimage to Waitangi as a new Lieutenant in 2011, and she explains that it has been 10 years in the making to reach this milestone. Māori Ministry paved the way with their community engagement stall, which has been operating for around six years. Alongside Māori Ministry, Divisional and Territorial Leaders have represented Te Ope Whakaora at the various church services. But this year’s honour of hosting and leading ‘Worship at Waitangi’ has increased The Salvation Army’s participation in Waitangi celebrations.
‘Gather the people and tell them that I love them, and to come together and worship in this place,’ were the words God gave Reverend Amiria Te Whiu, fuelling the vision for ‘Worship at Waitangi’.
Māori Ministry first participated in ‘Worship at Waitangi’, in 2019. In an interview with Shine TV, Hana reflected that ‘there was something special … as the waiata flowed out of the tent across the whenua. People were gathering together, and the denominational walls fell to the side and the unity of the spirit created an atmosphere that I haven’t experienced anywhere else.’
When Reverend Amiria asked Māori Ministry to be the hosts for ‘Worship at Waitangi 2020’, Hana’s response was an emphatic, Yes! ‘We were really honoured, and we sensed that it was God’s plan for us to be more involved.’
Increasing numbers of Christians have attended Waitangi celebrations over the past five years, and Hana’s noticing a change in the atmosphere. ‘This is a place that has experienced a lot of historic tension, conflict and hurt. So, what can we do? We can worship in a way that brings peace and acknowledges the presence of God,’ she affirms.
Hana was thrilled with the engagement of new Territorial Leaders Commissioners Julie and Mark Campbell. ‘There is no better way to enter Aotearoa than to come to the place where Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed and to acknowledge the relationship between tāngata whenua and tāngata tiriti,’ Hana says.
‘Their willingness to be welcomed on to Te Tii Marae and connect with everyone there was such a powerful witness of what their leadership will look like in the future. Those actions also acknowledged the leaders before them, who set that pattern of willingness.’
But what warmed Hana’s heart was what she calls, ‘the levelling’ she experienced within The Salvation Army at Waitangi. ‘I loved that you wouldn’t have known who had come from Epsom Lodge or Recovery Church, or who was an officer or a volunteer. There was such a range of people from different backgrounds representing Te Ope Whakaora at Waitangi.’
Apotoro Takiwā Kereama Pene, well-respected Ratana Church leader, posted these words of encouragement and endorsement on Facebook after Waitangi:
‘Captain Hana and the Te Ope Whakaora crew—what can I say about the Army of God? Just simply that I admired everything you all did [at Waitangi]. It isn’t an easy job to help an old institution like The Salvation Army break new ground, but you’re on the right track, and if you need any help from the Ratana Church movement in Auckland, please don’t hesitate to ask. You have a new friend in me, and I love your warm Christian hearts.’